04 January 2019
Rebecca Kauffman’s The Gunners is the ultimate high school reunion novel, full of big characters, dark secrets and unfinished business. When a group of old school friends are forced back together at the funeral of a former friend, they must delve into why she left them all those years ago – and what it means for their lives, then and now.
Read the opening pages below or download a PDF.
Mikey Callahan discovered something about himself when he was six years old.
Students from his first-grade class were taken one at a time from the classroom and ushered to the gymnasium for standard medical tests. The woman who barked his name (although she called for Michael, instead of Mikey, as his classmates knew him) held his hand as she walked him down the hall, and her fingers were as dry and cool as a husk. In the gymnasium, there were rectangular tables, screens, clipboards, grown-ups dressed in white. A man with a rust-colored mustache put a cold rubber point into Mikey’s ears, stared in at them, and led him through a series of easy tests: instructing Mikey to close his eyes and repeat words the man whispered, then listen to two recorded tones and tell him which was louder.
Mikey proceeded to the next station, where he was asked once again to close his eyes, and say “Now,” when he detected that he had been touched, on his face or his arm, by the tip of a pen. Easy. Mikey liked this better than sitting in a classroom, and he enjoyed being touched in this way. Gentle, clinical.
At the final station, an easel at the far end of a long table displayed a white piece of paper with a pyramid of black letters on it. A woman stood next to the paper and pointed at letters one at a time, and Mikey read the letters back to her. The letters got smaller as she moved down the page, and he struggled to read the final two rows. The woman made a note on her clipboard; then she handed him a black plastic spoon and asked him to cover his left eye with it. She replaced the set of letters with a fresh one and repeated the exercise, with similar results.
She said, “Cover your other eye now,” and turned the page on her easel once again.
Mikey did not raise the spoon to his face. He felt the heat of dark blood spreading up into his cheeks. He said, “But that’s my good one.”
The lady said, “What now, hon?”
“I can’t cover this one.” He gestured toward his right eye, puzzled by her request. “It’s the one that works.”
The lady came and knelt before him. She looked at his face and said, “Oh, dear.”
Mikey didn’t understand.
She explained to him that both eyes were supposed to work; most people had two good eyes.
Mikey nodded slowly as he considered this. He had a compulsion to nod when faced with unpleasant information.
He said, “Please, let’s not tell my dad.”
When Mikey got home from school that day, his father stared at his left eye, the bad one, with a look of mild distaste; then he led Mikey through a series of his own tests, as though the school had exaggerated the condition. He made Mikey close his right eye and tell him how many fingers he was holding up. Mikey tried to answer correctly, fluttering his right eye open to peek. He begged his father not to make him wear a patch like a pirate, and his father said, “What in the hell would that accomplish?”